If we build three million new houses by 2020, where will we grow all the stuff needed to feed the people who live in them?
-Jeremy Clarkson (The Sunday Times, Oct. 21, 2007)
Miami-Dade County is one of the densest demographic regions within Florida. The exponential growth of its population over the past few decades has shed light on the increasing demand required in order to sustain the natural and urban environments as they co-exist. The need for an evaluation and revamp of the county’s land use, and zoning and planning ordinances is at an all-time high. With the housing market continuing to falter and the economic future of the state dangling perilously on the edge of collapse, looking within the communities that make up the developmental infrastructure may be the best starting point to obtaining a sustainable urban development strategy that tackles the ever-growing population and exploitation of Florida’s geographic landscape.
Miami-Dade County’s urban developmental strategies have caused unnecessary infractions upon surrounding ecological habitats, resulting in the exploitation of natural resources without full consideration for alternative methods to accommodate the county’s building demands.
Facts about the Issue:
Geographic Capacity & Population
Miami-Dade County, Florida is home to over 2.3 million people, encompassing nearly 3200 sq km (2000 sq mi) of land. On average, each sq km absorbs approximately 1200 people annually (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Population growth and demographic organization is an on-going battle found throughout any urbanized group of individuals worldwide. The idealistic belief that a population can be inadvertently controlled through an array of subtle, environmental factors has become the driving force behind the anthropological proposal of ‘carrying capacity’. Described by Dr. Brian Hayden in the 1975 issue of American Antiquity as “…the maximum ability of an environment to continuously provide subsistence at the level of culture provided by the inhabitants,” and “traditionally expressed as the number of individuals that an average…square kilometer can support,” its relevance in addressing Miami-Dade County’s continuous urban sprawl emphasizes the county’s over-extension of its environment, and that environment’s ability to support the organisms that live within it (Hayden, 1975).
A large population consuming a geographic region that is unable to sustain the demands set forth, such as that of Miami-Dade County, begins a process of ecological dissemination known as “degradation of resources”. Anthropologist Dr. Allen Johnson, while studying the Machiguenga settlement of Shimaa, discovered that during their relocation practices the
environmental impact at each location became more and more emphasized, yet the natural environment was unable to recover from the tribe’s use of the land as quickly as would be hoped. He defined his findings as environmental degradation, as the “increasing scarcity of vital resources” within a geographic area (Allen, 1974). Though Dr. Allen’s research focused on an underdeveloped tribal group, his study showed the significance of over-exploitation within an
area, and the dramatic, long-term affect such abuse of natural resources ultimately has on the surrounding environment.
In 2003, an article published in the Journal of Ecological Economics surfaced that heightened the significant impact population densities can have on an exploited natural environment. The study, which spanned two decades and included cross-continental demographics of the United States, concluded that extensive and invasive intrusion into an illprepared
natural landscape increases the levels of CO2 emissions, which limit the capacity for that same environment to accumulate a healthy standard of living. It was calculated that a “1% increase in population is associated with a 1.42% increase in CO2 emissions on average,” and that “long-run, technological change responds to environmental pressures” (Shi, 2003).
Furthering the findings divulged in the 2003 report, the USACE Regulatory Program released their July 2009 Everglades Divisional Report, and discovered that over the past 50 years more than 50% of the natural landscape of the Everglades National Park had been dredged and developed to accommodate the growing urban demand in Miami-Dade County (USACE, 2009). The coastline of the county has also fallen victim to the impeding population growth, and evidence of coral contamination and beach erosion has raised major concerns for the marine life that lives within the Biscayne National Park (BNP). A 2004 report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission showed that the Florida reef tract exemplifies reef decline in the Atlantic-Caribbean region with many reefs now exhibiting less than 10% live coral cover
(Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2004). In the past three decades, reef decline and coastal instability has been directly linked to Miami-Dade County’s population growth and urban development. The presence of two decommissioned landfills serving as makeshift foundations for two of Florida’s most significant aquifers, the Floridian and the Biscayne, allows for groundwater contamination and outflow into BNP, which correlates directly with the deterioration of the marine reefs and living organism systems (McNeill, 2000).
Recycling properties for the re-use and re-commission into the urban land-use plans requires substantial availability of usable properties, both residential and commercial. According to two independent, nationwide property listings sites, as of February 2010, there were approximately 48,571 vacant residential properties. Of those mentioned, roughly 29,540 were in
pre-foreclosure status, 2628 were up for auction, 7959 were already bank-owned, and nearly 8000 were listed for sale (RealtyTrac, 2010). The commercial properties list, though substantially smaller than the residential availability, was comprised of 3079 vacant lease structures and 2777 vacant buildings for sale (CoStar, 2010). With nearly 55,000 available
properties for developers, businesses, and potential home buyers to choose from, ‘new construction’ permits were still issued within the county’s average annual quota of around 3500 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).
State & Federal Standards
Several local- and state-backed organizations and committees have formed to specifically address the growing concerns about Miami-Dade’s overpopulated areas over the last decade. They were put into place to create a highly-efficient and economically sound urban development system for the increased demand in residential and commercial needs. In 2001, the South Florida Community Development Coalition (SFCDC) introduced the “Infill Housing Initiative” to the Miami-Dade County Ordinance in an attempt to beautify the city’s neglected neighborhoods. The SFCDC was also established to ensure that the beautification of such neighborhoods was cost-effective to developers and construction companies in the long-term
(SFCDC, 2001). In an attempt to lure potential homebuyers and developers to residential areas that were otherwise ignored, the SFCDC plan failed to recognize the issue of population and its effects on all aspects of Miami-Dade County, including those communities deemed “aesthetically pleasing”.
At the national level, in 2009 the North American Home Builders Association (NAHBA), in cooperation with the U.S. Green Building Council, the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, introduced a cooperative program designed to implement new developmental strategies and techniques with more ecologically-friendly
foundations. Designated as the “LEED-ND” program for neighborhood developments, it “will utilize a rating system similar to the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) rating system now used to certify green buildings” (NAHB, 2009). The incentives and pro-active introduction to a greener, sustainable development plan has been widely encouraged throughout the country, but this marketable idea has yet to be issued into Florida’s legislative books.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research introduced a lengthy analysis report on the ecological and economical advantages to a widespread revamping of the urban developmental strategies already in place within major cities throughout the country. Released in 2003, and accepted by a formal committee of expert scholars and individual researchers, many of the ideas provided have yet to be successfully adapted to Miami-Dade County’s current land use models which extends through 2025 (U.S. HUD, 2003). The only organized committee with the capability to address such an amendment to their pre-existing by-laws would be the Miami-Dade County Policy and Steering Committee on Energy, Environment, and Land Use. And as of 2009, no such designation was being considered.
There have also been federal laws introduced, alongside public interest group policies, to address the growing need for more organized and diversified planning system adjustments. On January 11, 2002, former President George W. Bush signed the ‘Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act’. Under the new law, states, not federal agencies were held liable for the property clean-up and maintenance of recycled lands that were once thought
unusable due to contamination from previous pre-existing structures. As a direct result from reusing dismissed lands, developers and contractors benefited from tax credits and a less strict enforcement for their construction guidelines. Contractors could receive the credit as long as said construction did not impede on environmental and/or public safety standards set forth by the state and federal agencies designed for such reasons (Small Business Liability Relief and
Brownfields Revitalization Act, 2002).
Taxation & Fiscal Responsibility
Even with state and federal backing, there is always the concern for costs with regard to the construction of both residential and economical buildings. In 2003, a California-based group called ‘The Sustainable (Green) Building Task Force’, comprised of over 40 state agencies, was created in order to determine the financial liability of building green, recycled buildings from both pre-existing developed lands, as well as using green, recycled materials for those projects.
The structures addressed were mainly commercial facilities including 25 public buildings and eight schools located all throughout California, with actual or projected completion dates between 1995 and 2004 (Executive Order D-16-00, 2000). Upon analysis of the total costs of those developed structures versus similar structures erected using traditional methods, it was discovered that the total financial debt caused by the green buildings was less than 2% of that caused by traditional construction methods (State and Consumer Services Agency, 2003).
Funding for such significant changes to already established modes of operation, especially those which impact county development and urban sprawl, can inadvertently prevent the successful enactment of regulation if insufficient funds are dispersed to cover the initial costs incurred. In the spring 2004 publication of the Temple Environmental Law & Technology
Journal, the very core of an individual state’s taxation rights was addressed with regard to regional conservation and the re-evaluation of land-use systems. McElfish points out that even if there is an insurmountable amount of support and evidence of the likely success of any change to current land-use models (in this case, Miami-Dade County’s), that the tax decisions necessary for the proper funding of any particular county-induced program comes down to what’s best for
BOTH the region and the potential investors in question. More specifically, that “while planning and zoning laws establish the rules for land development, fiscal concerns affect planning and zoning choices as well as individual property owner choices” (McElfish Jr., 2004). To compensate for the potential loss of financial feasibility, many innovative changes proposed by regional partnership groups or affiliate nonprofit organizations seek assistance through federal
funding (in the form of grants), as well as local support through public fundraising. Such choices tend to only meet the monetary demands necessary to start new programs, and typically fail to address the long-term financial liability required for completion.
In an attempt to compensate for this lack of financial security, ‘The Florida Growth Policy Act’ (GPA) was adopted into legislation in 1999. Within its guidelines, and in cooperation with the previous requirements set forth by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the GPA allowed for tax increment financing to cover long-term expenses to fiscally
strong urban centers, without the unnecessary enlistment of a county’s individual CRA locale. Introduction of the GPA also allowed for opportunities in planning grants, access to redevelopment trust funds, and other economic incentives that were otherwise inaccessible (The Florida Growth Policy Act, 1999).
The goal of the Miami-Dade Urban Sprawl Redevelopment Partnership (MDUSRP) is to provide a viable and ecologically safe urban development strategy that would instill a pro-active enforcement of all construction agencies and developers to use already available lands and structures for their specific needs. This effort would be to discourage, and perhaps eliminate the unnecessary destruction of marsh, swamp and coastlines within Miami-Dade County. Furthermore, should this plan be successful, statewide implementation would have the potential of addressing other Florida counties facing equally devastating urban development, resource depletion and wildlife mismanagement.
- A public hearing would be required to properly educate the public (current homeowners and potential new investors) on what a “recycled” property is exactly, since many may be deterred by the idea if unsure of how it would affect their local communities.
- Outside agencies and groups that have already introduced similar adjustments into their states or neighborhoods, even if for only a trial period, would be brought in to provide reference and collaborative suggestions throughout the process to ensure that any issues are immediately addressed and resolved.
- Monthly meetings (typically on the 15th of every month) will ensure nonstop communication and collaboration between all stakeholders as a necessary way to guarantee that every agency and organization is represented, that all state and federal laws are abided by, and that all codes are properly enforced and recognized. This will ensure a safe development strategy of associated lands and properties. Bipartisanship is a key component throughout this plan.
- Lobbying for tax exemptions or credits for those who participate in the purchase or sale of a recycled structure, including the purchaser/buyer, realtor, developer, and construction company. This, potentially, would entice those directly involved to lean toward recycled properties rather than traditional construction lots and buildings. A
similar template used for tax write-offs for Energy Star appliance purchases, or property applications that adopt “green” utility devices would be used until an appropriate methodology that accommodates the specific of recycled properties is created.
- Assurance to contractors and developers, and even home buyers and sellers, that none of their rights and contractual obligations will be altered by proposing a warranty program, similar to current home construction contracts. And that all pre-existing housing standards and compliance codes will continue to be enforced through a transparency policy that allows for property inspection reports to be available to anyone interested in purchasing a recycled property.
The Miami-Dade Urban Sprawl Redevelopment Partnership seeks to protect the surrounding natural landscape and marine environment from impeding urban sprawl by introducing land development practices that have a sound, ecological foundation for future generations of people.
The Miami-Dade Urban Sprawl Redevelopment Partnership is designed to enlist the dedicated commitment of local, state and federal agencies interested in revamping the current land use plans for the county, in hopes of securing a financially feasible, as well as environmentally solid future for the county’s growing demographic. Members will be required to commit extensive time, objectiveness, monetary assistance, and realistic interpretation in order to properly execute all stages of the plan in a timely and fiscally responsible manner.
Federal: National Association of Homebuilders (Dept. of Land Development), US Dept. of
Housing & Urban Development (Carrfour Supportive Housing), US Dept. of Environmental
Protection (Office of Policy & Management; Air, Pesticides & Toxic Management Division;
Environmental Accountability Division; Resource Conservation & Recovery Act Division;
Science & Ecosystem Support Division; Water Protection Division)
State: Florida Homebuilders Assoc. (Communications Director), Builders Assoc. of S. FL.
(Environmental Task Force; Building Codes Task Force; Commercial Construction Council;
Affordable Housing; Finance Committee), Florida Green Building Coalition (Real Estate,
Finance & Property Services; Development & Construction), FL Dept. of Agriculture &
Consumer Services (Division of Agricultural Environmental Services; Division of Forestry;
Division of Aquaculture), FL Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (South Regional
Director; Miami Commissioner Chairman 2010), FL Realtors Association, FL Dept. of
Environmental Protection (Southeast District; Planning & Management; Land & Recreation;
County: Miami-Dade Dept. of Environmental Protection (DERM), Miami-Dade Agricultural
Manager (a division of Consumer Services), Miami-Dade Dept. of Building Code Compliance,
Miami-Dade Dept. of Building & Neighborhood Compliance, Miami-Dade Dept. of
Communications, Miami-Dade Community Advocacy Dept., Miami-Dade Community Image (a
division of Public Works), Miami-Dade Countywide Healthcare Planning (a division of Planning
& Zoning), Miami-Dade Economic Development Coordination (a division of Planning & Zoning), Miami-Dade Housing & Community Development, Miami-Dade Housing Finance
Authority, Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization, Miami-Dade Neighborhood
Compliance (a division of Building & Neighborhood Compliance), Miami-Dade Dept. of Park &
Recreation, Miami-Dade Dept. of Planning & Zoning, Miami-Dade Dept. of Procurement
Management, Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, Miami-Dade Public Housing Authority, Miami-
Dade Dept. of Public Works, Miami-Dade Dept. of Small Business Development, Miami-Dade
Dept. of Solid Waste Management, Miami-Dade Dept. of Sustainability, Miami-Dade Dept. of
Water & Sewer, Miami-Dade Committee on Policy & Steering
- The most current US Census Bureau Report from both 2000 and the estimation in 2008
- A regional poll, including a section for questions/concerns, sent to the public for their
input on the matter at hand
- An individual zoning platform (by voting sector) for each section of Miami-Dade
County, with a complete compilation of their current vacant property list, occupancy list,
population density, estimated home sales list, estimated home appraisal values, etc.
- A list of construction companies and developers in the region who are currently familiar
with, and who also practice “green” building techniques
- Land-use models for Miami-Dade County through 2025
- Incident reports for wildlife v. population interactions along sections lining Everglades
- A survey created for land developers and construction agencies looking to, or who have
already built in Miami-Dade County, to get their full, detailed input on moving toward
- Urban development trends reports in relation to equally population-dense areas within
Florida (Orange, Duval, Palm Beach, Broward Counties, etc.)
California Exec. Order No. D-16-00 (2000 comp.)
CoStar Realty Information, Inc. (2010, February 24). Miami Commercial Property Listings. Retrieved from http://www.showcase.com/properties/Miami-Commercial-Property
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. EPA/ NOAA Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project. (2004). A Report of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Georgia pursuant to U.S. EPA grant award 9746002-0 and NOAA Grant award NA 160P2554.
Hayden, Brian. (1975). The carrying capacity dilemma. American Antiquity, 40(2), 11-21.
Johnson, Allen. (Ed.). (1974). Carrying capacity in machiguenga ecology: theory and practice. Mexico City, Mexico: American Anthropological Association.
McElfish Jr., James M. (2004). Taxation effects on land development and conservation. Temple Environmental Law & Technology Journal, 22, 139-153.
McNeill, D.F., 2000, A review of upward migration of effluent related to subsurface injection at Miami-Dade Water and Sewer South District Plant. Report prepared for the Sierra Club-Miami group.
NAHB Land Development Services Department (2009). LEED-ND Report 2009. Retrieved
February 25, 2010 from NAHB database http://www.nahb.org
Realitytrac, Inc. (2010, February 24). Miami-dade county profile. Retrieved from http://www.realtytrac.com/mapsearch/fl/miami-dade-county-foreclosures.html
Shi, Anqing. (2003). The Impact of population pressure on global carbon dioxide emissions, 1975-1996. Ecological Economics, 44, 29-42.
Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-118, 221 (2002).
South Florida Community Development Coalition (2001). Annual Report 2001. Retrieved February 24, 2010 from SFCDC database http://www.floridacdc.org/liens/infill112.htm
State and Consumer Services Agency. (2003). An update on state sustainable building initiatives. Sacramento: Government Printing Office.
The Florida Growth Policy Act of 1999. Pub. L. No. 2511-2526, 163 (1998).
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Everglades Division. (2009, August). The 2009 Everglades Report: CERP. Retrieved 15 March 2010 from http://www.evergladesplan.org/everglades_report/july_aug_2009/index.html
U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). “Census 2000 Summary File 1 (SF3) – Miami-Dade Geographic Area”. Retrieved 24 February 2010 from U.S. Census http://factfinder.census.gov
U.S. Census Bureau. (1998). “Miami-Dade County Profile”. Retrieved 3 March 2010 from U.S. Census http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12/12086.html
U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (2009). “The Practice of Low Impact Development”. Retrieved 24 February 2010 from http://www.huduser.org/publications/destech/lowimpactdevl.html